Fukuma Fletch

Only in Japan

Blistering Social Commentary by Fukuma Fletch

10 Little things (Taken from an email written 10/01)

A good friend just reminded me that it’s the little things (and some not so little things) that really stand out while living in a foreign country. With that thought in mind, I’d like to share some of my observations after nearly three months on the other side of the world. The problem is I can’t narrow my list down, so this email will be part one of two. Sorry for any inconvenience (not really).

In no particular order:

1) I have yet to see an apartment that has a drying machine. This of course necessitates hanging clothes out to dry from a clothes line (in this case a clothes pole). It might not seem like much, but after nearly three months of ironing everything from T-shirts to socks, it get kind of old.

2) Blowing your nose in public is one of the most uncouth things that can possibly be done. It would be akin to something like pulling your pants down and urinating on your grandmother’s tulip bed. Simply atrocious. But it’s perfectly polite to loudly suck snot back into your nose for hours on end. Go figure.

3) Restaurant size: in the US we have relatively few restaurants that seat mass quantities of people. In Japan there are literally hundreds of little restaurants littered throughout every town that might only seat up to eight or nine people. It feels like having dinner in your neighbor’s living room or something. I think of Red Robin or someplace like that and it now seems like eating in a cafeteria or a mess hall.

4) I love lunchtime in Japan. All the lights are turned off and soft, soothing music flows over the intercom. Doing any work during this time is almost as bad as blowing your nose in public. It’s really quite nice.

5) Another thing that the Japanese definitely have right is wearing slippers inside, especially at work. Somehow, the day never seems quite so bad walking around work in my Adidas flip-flops. I love seeing my principal wearing slippers with his suit.

6) Many people have probably heard how wonderful and efficient the Japanese public transportation system is. What they heard is correct. What these people might not have heard is how ridiculously expensive it is. For a round trip about the distance between the Sunset Transit Center and Lloyd Center (for non-Portlanders that’s maybe a 45 minute ride each way) I pay the equivalent of a little over $10. I don’t know about the rest of the US, but that same ride would be about $3 in Portland.

7) I suppose this kind of ties into number six, but prices in general are very different. I can get a tasty bento (a real bento) with rice, tempura, vegetables, udon, and a drink for around $2.75, yet a bag of four apples costs me over $4.50. Don’t even ask what a pair of Gap Jeans costs.

8) Japan is still very much a cash society. Debit cards are only now being slowly introduced and checks are virtually non-existent. It is not at all uncommon for people to walk around with several hundred dollars in their pocket.

9) You wouldn’t believe the use of English in advertisements, slogans, etc. At least ten times a day I see people wearing T-Shirts that say things like, “Favorite car, my life hat.” I sometimes wonder if these people are curious as to why, on the train, I laugh uncontrollably every time I look in their directions. There is hair salon about a block away from my apartment called, “Hair Flap.” (You don’t say? -ed) For many more check outwww.engrish.com. Trust me, it’s worth it. Charleton and Yumiko know exactly what I’m talking about.

10) You’d be amazed sometimes at how strange it still is to walk outside of a bank or a school and see a Japanese flag flying overhead and not Old Glory. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that. Though maybe that doesn’t count as a “little thing.” Somehow I don’t think it should.

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